Monday, August 24, 2009

Keep The Fires Burning

Definition of the word 'inspiration':

Use inspiration in a Sentence
1. an inspiring or animating action or influence: I cannot write poetry without inspiration.
2. something inspired, as an idea.
3. a result of inspired activity.
4. a thing or person that inspires.
5. Theology.
a. a divine influence directly and immediately exerted upon the mind or soul.
b. the divine quality of the writings or words of a person so influenced.
6. the drawing of air into the lungs; inhalation.
7. the act of inspiring; quality or state of being inspired.

I was reading Princess Bride's writing blog early today (see it here - if you ask me, she's the shit:

Princes had a posting entitled "Married to It", as in, how does a writer finish scripts?

I am a 45 year old, unproduced writer who has written many, many scripts over the years. Two of them were very, very close to being made. I met with Jill Clayburgh for a role I had written, I had met with Jessica Lange, I had famous producers involved, Robert DeNiro expressed interest, money was on the table, casting sessions were in place, but alas, they were not made.

Eight years ago, I stopped writing. I didn't see the point. Why write when no one was going to see my work? Works by artists are meant to be seen and I felt invisible. What did my work or my thoughts or feelings matter if only my close circle of artist family members read my work?

Fiction writers told me screenwriting is not writing, it's constructing. Playwrights told me they loved the medium of screenwriting but movies are run by mean entertainment suits who wouldn't know art if it bit them in the ass, so why bother? Plus, no one ever really sold a script and made a living writing screenplays, they said. Such thinking is a pipedream.

I can't remember a time when I wasn't obsessed with movies. My most vivid memories as a child are of opening the entertainment section of the Seattle Times and circling, in red, all of the movies I was going to see on opening weekend. I would get so excited I would get gas. I couldn't eat. I couldn't sleep until I saw the movies I wanted to see.

Therapists have told me why I was obsessed with movies. They said it was my way of coping with a terrible and abusive childhood. They're not wrong, but their analysis is a bit narrow. I went to the movies to gain insight into life. And I did.

Like most writers who must write movies, I have a handful of films I saw as a child which have defined me. I rewatch them ever few years and I taken back to the moment when I first saw them and they made me feel. This is why I went to the movies. It was a place for me to safely feel. I felt the world was unsafe and cruel and in the movies, I could cry or laugh or shudder in the company to total strangers and not feel so alone.

When I stopped writing, I took to drinking lots of wine and filling up my time with nothingness. Then, one day, I popped in one of the handful of films I saw over and over again when I was younger. I sat on my couch and watched it, uninterrupted, from beginning to end, alone.

I started writing again the next morning. I have continued to do so to this day. I realized to give up on writing was to give up on me. I couldn't allow that and neither should you.

But how do you keep toiling away on a script when you have the following things to deal with:

1. Mortgage
2. An outside job to pay the mortgage
3. Kids
4. Sex life
5. Absence of a sex life
6. Anxiety
7. Depression
8. Marriage issues which never seem to go away
9. In-laws
10. Needy friends, lovers, co-workers
11. Annoying friends, lovers, co-workers
12. A lawn to mow
13. A gutter to clean
14. A dinner to make
15. A lack of friends who feel screenwriting is writing or who don't understand why you won't get a 'real career'

No need to go on. But you get the picture. How do we all stay inspired to keep writing every day and find our inspiration?

Here is what I think - I think all of us had one thing happen to us which made us want to write the script we are now writing. An image, a word, a feeling, a song, a person, a loss, a reward, an act of generosity or hate, a trip, a work of art, the way the old woman on the corner touched our elbow and looked in our eyes before crossing the street and reminding us of our mother and Oh My God, what if she was psychic and Oh My God what if she read my mind and then and then and then...

That moment is the moment writers must keep returning to day after day when they are writing and toiling away on an art form as noble and deeply felt as screenwriting. Otherwise, how on earth do you keep writing?

I've had countless professors tell me, "Well, there is no magic bullet! You sit your ass in the chair and you work. There. There is the secret to finishing the work!"

Such thinking has never worked for me. I am too sensitive. I'll put up my guard in pitch meetings and I'll let the callous and cold-hearted comments of frightened development executives roll off of me like warm, summer water off a plump duck's ass, but in a writing class or group or program, I find yelling and 'tough love' accomplishes absolutely nothing except feed the ego of the instructor.

The place of creativity is a mystery. We will never, ever be able to define it and that is how it should be. But what is not a mystery is what first sparked us to write the first word of the outline or the draft.

I have seen, time and time again, when the writer is stuck and cannot finish a draft and revisits the reason they first started writing this specific piece...they can write again.

When they look at the initial image which sparked them, or listen to the piece of music which moved them so deeply, or feel again the insight they felt on that day they realized, "Yes, this is what I want to teach people, this is the insight into the human condition I want to find a story to wrap around..."...they start writing.

It's like the novelist Ian McEwan once said: "I want to write a narrative with ideas that is as addictive as a drug." Perfect.

We write because we have a conscious emotional insight into this life we want to share with people. Selfish, true, but valid and important. Our job is to wrap that emotional insight (read: theme) inside of a narrative as addictive as a drug (and yes, that is where the years and years and years of work comes in).

But we can only do that if we know what we have and we can only know what we have if we finish the work.

Princess Scribe detailed how it took years and years for some written work to become realized. She's absolutely right. The fact any movie actually gets made is amazing. But that cannot be our concern.

Our concern must be for the act of expression and the act of putting that down on the page. If it is good and from the heart, it will get noticed. Let's be honest - why would any choose the profession of writing if they didn't felt they must express themselves and their insights about life?

Movies are shifting, changing emotion art pieces. Our goal in writing movies is to create art which makes sense of ourselves and our place in this world (even if some of those movies have exploding cars and gratuitous sex and are supporting by silly and unrelenting marketing campaigns).

Never give up. Never surrender. Never stop expressing yourself. And always remember what made you first want to write the script you are now writing and visit that each and every day. In the morning. In the afternoon. Before bed.

Know what you want to say. Articulate it. Feel it. Find your genre, find your story, wrap it around what you must say and write.

Don't let anyone stop you.

If you do, you aren't letting down the one person who matters most.



  1. Thank you, Kind Sir Mikey. Continue on with the Good Words!

    HRH, The Princess Scribe

  2. It is my pleasure, My Princess. You inspired, perhaps, I may inspire others. Keep on!

  3. Mike, what you write about I think of more generally as it relates to creativity and my love for visual arts. I do think it's hard to remember the inspiration but, in fact, that's what keeps you going. XO